Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Dove's Dung

Kevin P. Edgecomb, author of the blog biblicalia, writes:
I have a slight correction to your recent and thoroughly enjoyable post on coprophagy, etc.

The Hebrew "dove's dung" in 2 Kings 6.25 has been recognized for some time now as a colloquial term for either husks or a particular weed. It's particularly the Akkadian data that clarified things.

This is from Mordechai Cogan and Hayim Tadmor's Anchor Bible Commentary on 2 Kings (Doubleday, 1988), page 79:
Josephus thought that the dung was used for salt (Antiquities ix.62); Qimhi, for fuel due to lack of firewood. The translation of NEB ("locust beans") and NJPS ("carob pods") follow the Akkadian evidence: in a lexical list of plants, ḫalla/ze summāti, "dove's dung," is defined as zēr ašāgi = ḫarūbu, "the seed of the (false) carob." This was first recognized by R. Campbell Thompson, Dictionary of Assyrian Botany (London, 1949), 186; and independently by A. L. Oppenheim, JQR 37 (1946-47), 175-76. See also the extensive treatment by M. Held, Studies...Landsberger, AS 16 (1965), 395-98.
From just a few years later, the Anchor Bible Dictionary (Doubleday, 1992), has this listed among Flora (vol. 2, p. 815):
DOVE'S DUNG, STAR OF BETHLEHEM (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is the Heb ḥiryôn (2 Kgs 6:25; see Post 1883: 801; Loew 1928, I: 601; Moldenke 1952: 162). This plant grows profusely on the hills of Samaria, and the white flowers look like bird droppings. It is a small, bulbous plant with umbels of flowers. The bulbs are poisonous, unless roasted or boiled; then they may be ground into meal.
In that respect, "dove's dung" should simply be reclassified in your list, though it's still a fun thing to see.

I also offer you a further biblical example, Ezekiel 4.9-15 (New Revised Standard Version), instructions of the LORD to Ezekiel for a prophetic "bed-in" or whatever one might call it:
And you, take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them into one vessel, and make bread for yourself. During the number of days that you lie on your side, three hundred ninety days, you shall eat it. The food that you eat shall be twenty shekels a day by weight; at fixed times you shall eat it. And you shall drink water by measure, one-sixth of a hin; at fixed times you shall drink. You shall eat it as a barley-cake, baking it in their sight on human dung. The LORD said, "Thus shall the people of Israel eat their bread, unclean, among the nations to which I will drive them." Then I said, "Ah Lord GOD! I have never defiled myself; from my youth up until now I have never eaten what died of itself or was torn by animals, nor has carrion flesh come into my mouth." Then he said to me, "See, I will let you have cow's dung instead of human dung, on which you may prepare your bread."
(I suspect the prophet to have withheld a sarcastic, "Gee, thanks.")

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